Boston-based State Street Bank and Trust Company has settled with the SEC over charges that the bank misled its investors about their exposure to subprime investments while selectively disclosing more complete information to specific investors.
State Street has agreed to settle the SEC's charges by paying more than $300 million that will be distributed to investors who lost money during the subprime market meltdown in 2007. This payment is in addition to nearly $350 million that State Street previously agreed to pay to investors in State Street funds to settle private claims.
Under the terms of the agreement with the SEC, State Street has agreed to establish a $313 million fair fund, which includes a fine of $50 million and disgorgement of advisory fees and interest of approximately $8 million. Combined with the approximately $350 million in prior client settlements, the total compensation to investors will be approximately $663 million. Under the settlements with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, State Street has agreed to pay $10 million to each of the Massachusetts Secretary of State and the Massachusetts Attorney General. State Street's previously established legal reserve will fully cover the cost of the settlements.
"State Street led investors to believe that their investments were more diversified than a typical money market portfolio, when instead they were invested almost entirely in subprime investments that ultimately caused hundreds of millions of dollars in losses," said Robert Khuzami, director of the SEC's division of enforcement, in a statement. "Investigating potential securities law violations arising out of the credit crisis remains a high priority for the SEC Enforcement Division."
The enforcement action is the result of joint efforts by the SEC with the Massachusetts Securities Division and the Massachusetts Attorney General's office, which both announced related charges against State Street today.
According to the SEC's complaint filed in federal court in Boston and a related administrative order issued by the Commission, State Street established its Limited Duration Bond Fund in 2002 and marketed it as an "enhanced cash" investment strategy that was an alternative to a money market fund for certain types of investors.
By 2007, however, the fund was almost entirely invested in subprime residential mortgage-backed securities and derivatives that magnified its exposure to subprime securities. But according to the SEC, State Street continued to describe the fund to prospective and current investors as having better sector diversification than a typical money market fund, and failed to disclose the extent of the fund's concentration in subprime investments.
According to the SEC's complaint and order, State Street sent investors a series of misleading communications beginning in July 2007 concerning the effect of the turmoil in the subprime market on the Limited Duration Bond Fund and other State Street funds that invested in it. At the same time, however, State Street provided particular investors with more complete information about the fund's subprime concentration and other problems with the fund. These other investors included clients of State Street's internal advisory groups, which provided advisory services to some investors in this fund and related funds.
The SEC alleges that, based on this more complete information, State Street's internal advisory groups subsequently decided to recommend that all of their clients including the pension plan of State Street's publicly-traded parent company (State Street Corporation) redeem their investments from the fund and the related funds. The SEC alleges that State Street sold the fund's most liquid holdings and used the cash it received from these sales to meet the redemption demands of better informed investors, leaving the fund and its remaining investors with largely illiquid holdings.
State Street also was ordered to cease and desist from any further violations of certain securities laws. The SEC's enforcement action took into account the company's remediation and its cooperation, including: replacement of key senior personnel and portfolio managers, conducting a review of its procedures and revised its risk controls, entering into private settlements with harmed investors, and recent agreement — pursuant to a limited privilege waiver — to provide information it was not otherwise obligated to provide to enable the SEC to assess the potential liability of individuals with respect to certain investor communications. The SEC says its investigation is ongoing.